Re: A Musicology of Ea/Cm

Subject: Re: A Musicology of Ea/Cm
From: Carlos Palombini (
Date: Wed Oct 13 1999 - 09:21:36 EDT


Thank you for your comments.

> Triangulation? I understand the concept for the location of a 'point
> source' ... could you explain the concept a little further?

Well, you've heard from the author, so I don't need to enlarge uponthis one.
Thank you Leigh!

> >In his article, Landy reviews the musicology of EA music --- 'any music
> >in which electricity has had some involvement in sound registration and/or
> >production other than that of simple microphone recording or amplification'
> Hmmmm... an interesting set of restrictions. This would appear to remove
> my soundscape pieces and many years of work with a phono cartridge (sorry
> for the generational reference). Interesting that the word 'music'
> appears, but remains undefined (unless, as Ives it reported to have
> considered ... "Music is what remains when the sound is gone." But it's
> good to know that it includes the entire output of Glenn Gould.

Well, all such labels --- EA music, computer music, musique concrete,soundscape
etc. --- carry aesthetic connotations with them, even if they are
propounded as neutral and as referring simply to sound sources. This is clear,
for instance, in Schaeffer's career. Musique concrete was initially a
demarche (probably the precursor of what you call photoshop music, if I
have understood you).Then Schaeffer didn't like the music the label came
to be viewed/heard as associated with, and he propounded the
term "experimental music" as a general label for musique concrete, elektronische

Musik, music for tape, and what he then termed exotic musics (world musics); in
other words, for all musics that, in one way or another, expanded the
of Western tradition (maybe we might includ historical performance). However,
experimental music is not simply that. He then moved on to recherche musicale,
we now associate with the GRM output... This is why the label digital musics is
music to my ears, but I'm sure that it will eventually become associated
with one trend or another.

I suspect that even Leigh finds it difficult to dissociate the label
electroacoustic music from its aesthetic associations, which I infer
from a perticular comment in his essay, where he refers to
"a someawhat ring-faced electroacoustic community". If
the EA community is construed in as wide a manner as he
does (and even so, with a problematic inclusion and a problematic
exclusion, as you've pointed out), then, in my opinion, that remark
becomes questionable.

In my view, you're perfectly right: soundscape is a genuine, if extreme,
development of Schaeffer's investigation into the listening, which in
turn follows from his early musique concrete experiments, and there
is no reason why it wouldn't be termed EA, though some may argue
whether it's music or not. In my opnion, music is the result of a
musical intention of listening.

> >--- according to the traditional division of the discipline: historical
> >musicology, systematic musicology and ethnomusicology, plus critical
> >musicology.
> The issue may be raised as to whether the application of (and extended
> version) is Adler's 1885 division is applicable ... or is the
> triangluation that is being looked into? When a web copy appears, it may
> be easier to comment.

Well, if in photoshop music as in musique concrete one is always recyclingold
materials, then the musicology of EA music should be allowed to do
the same, shouldn't it? However, I find it important to stress the
imcompatibilities between the two systems (if there are two systems):
the musicology of traditional musics and the musicologies of
experimental/EA/digital musics.

> >In my view, the musicology of EA music, like EA music itself, at least in
> >its concrete orientation, is a patchwork, a bricolage. In other words, the
> >musicological. Text reflects the musical Text, in the Barthesian sense.
> Sir, you have the advantage. (Roland Barthes 1915-1980?)

Sorry Kevin, I was referring to an article of Barthes' originally publishedin
*Le Monde*, 7 June 1974, which is the text of a conference given
in Italy, where he surveys the development of his career, from *Le
degré zéro de l'écriture* to the notion of Text.. It was reprinted as
an introduction to *L'aventure sémiologique* in 1985 (English
translation as *The Semiotic Challenge*). Like soundscape or
John Cage's 4'33", the Text exceeds the old literary or musical

'it is not an aesthetic product, it is a signifying practice; it is not a
structure, it is a structuration; it is not an object, it is a work and a
game; it is not an ensemble of closed signs endowed with a meaning
it would be a question of discovering, it is a volume of traces in
displacement; the instance of the Text is not signification but the
Signifier, in the semiotic and psychoanalytic acceptation of this
term' (Barthes 1974: 13).

It's curious to note that Barthes defines the concept negatively,
just like Schaeffer preliminary defines his sonic object in *Traité
des objets musicaux* and what I'm propounding, in fact, is that
the musical object be construed as Text, in the above sense.
Needless (?) to say, Text here has very little to do with the
notation of natural languages or with traditional notes, for
that matter.

> Is reference to concrete a reference to manifestation or the school of
> using a microphone. Sadly, for my poor mind, the context does not clarify.

I would define musique concrete as the school which:

[1] experiments with sound producing bodies, and tries to put them in
vibration by all possible means (hitting, rubbing, plucking, blowing...)

[2] records the sounds thus obtained

[3] manipulades such sounds

[4] organizes them

However, I would consider photoshop music (if I rightly understood you)
as a direct descendant of musique concrete, the mc of the digital age, in
which I'm justified by the fact that Schaeffer himself considered [1] as a
preliminary stage to his programme de recherche musicale

> Is there a 'text' for all ea/cm? And if the sonic object (sic) is the
> text, is the word 'text' not a poor choice of words?

As you now, there are two possible texts for ea/cm music: anoperative text,
which describes what the composer has done to
obtain the piece, and a descriptive text, which describes what the
music as perceived is like. If Text is construed in the Barthesian
sense, the choice is rather a semiologically/semiotically informed
than poor. In my humble opinion, it's a finding!

> >Please note that I'm not speaking about computer music here.
> Could you clarify a little? 'Computer Music' would include, in my use of
> the word(s), DAT, CD and the web. Myself, I would find it difficult to
> talk about ea/cm, even in Adler's first exposition of (1) Historical and
> (2) Systematic, without noting the impact of 'digital' applications, both
> in direct application to the 'sound object', and on the impact in
> reducing the significance of the 'local practice'.

Yes indeed. Originally, I intended to name my essay "Ideas for a Musicologyof
Digital Musics", but I suddenly realized that DM poses a particular set
of problems. The computer seems a particularly suitable medium to
process-music, where the composer sets a process into motion and
the computer does "the rest". This is quite different from selecting and
combining samples (whether in musique concrete or photoshop music).
However, you have musique concrete on CD (and this is not computer
music, though I would call it digital music). Regarding the reduction of
the significance of the "local practice": analog sound recording already
represents a decisive step, even if that reduction initially appears as
a curiosity for the exotic, as a preservation of endangered musics

> Adler may have wished to create another set of guidelines in the
> communications world of the 1990s. McLuhan (and Gould) did.

I belive that the most significant set of guidelines for
sonic/musicalcommunications can be found in Schaeffer's writing. While I must
admit that things do not evolve from manual to analog to digital
(contrary to popular belief, modularity didn't migrate from the Moog
to the computer, but the other way round), I belive that his text/Text
provides invaluable clues as to the transition from manual to
digital technologies of listening.

> > As such, it
> >certainly results from analogue recording procedures, as the musicological
> >text today results from select-copy-and-paste procedures. However, it might
> >be useful to ask to what extent such procedures, in general, result from a
> >certain worldview.
> Sorry again ... the word analog is this the physical/ acoustical act of
> transducing sound waves, or the composers 'analogical mind' that produces
> as set of relationships between an idea and its representation?

Both. And I take the composer's analogical mind to produce not onlya set of
relationships between an idea and its representation, but also
the idea itself. For instance, the very idea of "soundscape".

> >PS: pardon my ignorance, but what is 'photoshop music'?
> Probably worth a conference in itself! Photoshop Music is a term that I
> have stolen from somewhere in reference to ways of approaching
> sound/music composition, creation - collage - montage.
> Almost everyone in the [digital] visual arts has used photoshop, or some
> equivalent (bit mapped) "graphics" program. It is possible to scan
> (record), import, edit, apply a plug-in (process) and assemble images,
> without having held a camera, or even seen the abject(s) in 3-D.
> Sonic arts have now reached the stage where anyone can collect and
> manipulate sound. I view this as a very healthy development. I also feel
> that there are opportunities presented here for the education and
> development of the inner and outer ears.
> One of the differences from "music"ology, from ea/cm could be that the
> ea/cm-ologist would have in her bag of tricks, a thorough knowledge (and
> understanding) of acoustics and psychoacoustics. How many 'musicologists'
> think that brass instruments play the harmonic series? [Any book on
> acoustics will explain that a pipe closed at one end can only produce
> odd-numbered partials.]

Ideally she would. In my case, I must make do with a working understanding.Do
you think that a soundscape composers needs such thorough undestanding?
Many sound artists now think of composition in terms of pictorial or visual
processes (I count yourself here, with your photoshop music). Do they
need a thorough understanding of the physics and psychophysics of
luminous vibrations?

> Many many thanks for your insightful comments.

Thank you for your remarks, and sorry for the extension of my reply.

Best wishes


> Still early fall, but the momentary chill winds warn the leaves that,
> like the Canada geese V-ing in the corn-field stubble, it is soon time to
> return mother earth to her Persephonous-less plight.

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